Saturday, 23 July 2016

A new recording of David Bednall’s Stabat Mater from the Benenden Chapel Choir directed by Edward Whiting, with Jennifer Pike as violin soloist and the composer as organist, brings music of strength, beauty and passion

English Composer, David Bednall was born in 1979 and studied in Sherborne and then at The Queen’s College, Oxford where he was Organ Scholar. In 2000 the Chapel Choir toured Paris under his direction, singing at Notre Dame and other venues. That year he was appointed Organ Scholar at Gloucester Cathedral under David Briggs and Ian Ball. As Acting Director of Music and Acting Assistant Organist, he was closely involved in the Three Choirs Festival.  

He is Organist of the University of Bristol, Sub Organist at Bristol Cathedral and conducts the University Singers. He studied with Dr. Naji Hakim and David Briggs and between 2002 and 2007 was at Wells Cathedral, initially as Sub Organist and then as Assistant Organist. As well as the daily services he accompanied the choirs for concerts and on radio and television broadcasts. He also made a number of recordings with the Cathedral Choir and Chamber Choir on the Hyperion, Regent, Lammas and Priory labels.

He was a prize-winner in Improvisation and Performance at the examination for Fellow of The Royal College of Organists in 2002, and has given recitals at L’Église de La Trinité, Paris, Westminster, St Paul’s and many other cathedrals. Additional engagements have included recitals at Westminster Abbey and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  In June 2008 he gave a recital at Notre-Dame de Paris.

David Bednall is recognized as one of the leading choral composers of his generation and studied for a PhD in Composition with Professor John Pickard at the University of Bristol. As a composer David Bednall has featured on a number of recordings from Regent Records including his Requiem that was Gramophone, Editor’s Choice in May 2007.

His 40–part motet Lux orta est iusto closed the Bristol Proms 2015 and he has been commissioned by the Finzi Trust to write a Gloria and Nunc dimittis to accompany Finzi's setting of the Magnificat for the Three Choirs Festival 2016.

His Stabat Mater was premiered in New York by violinist, Hayley Lam and the Benenden Chapel Choir with the composer as organist. Its UK premiere came in June this year when it was heard at Holy Trinity in Sloane Square, London.

David Bednall’s Stabat Mater has been recorded with Jennifer Pike  as violin soloist with the Benenden Chapel Choir  directed by Edward Whiting and the composer as organist for Regent Records coupled with his Marian Suite for violin and organ and his setting of Ave Maria.


David Bednall’s Stabat mater is in eleven parts. The solo violin of Jennifer Pike opens the Prelude with a long theme that evokes the feel of anguish, bringing a rather Jewish inflection. The organ joins with gentle chords before the violin rises through some passionate passages. Soon the organ introduces a more resolute theme which the violin takes ahead over the organ, rising to a peak for both instruments in an impressive moment before the violinist finds a penetrating hush over the organ to lead into the next section.

The organ moves quietly and gently into the Stabat mater dolorosa with a remote, isolated quality.  The Benenden Chapel Choir enter with the words Stabat mater dolorosa juxta crucem lacrimosa (The grieving mother stood beside the cross) never disturbing the atmosphere of mournful isolation. These fine young female voices are excellent, so appropriate to this theme of a mother’s suffering. The organ suddenly rises up dramatically to lead the voices ahead in a passionate section. The music moves through moments that bring a real tension, the organ and choir weaving lovely sonorities yet with an underlying strength before leading to the coda over soft pulsating organ phrases.

With O quam tristis the organ brings a gentle theme over which the violin adds an exquisite line. The choir join in a gentle, sad Q quam tristis et afflicta (O how sad and afflicted) with the violin weaving a lovely line over the organ. The violin adds some sudden shimmering chords before the music rises up for choir, organ and violin. The violin leads forward over the organ with choir joining in a quite lovely conclusion.

The organ brings an anxious opening to Quis est homo to which the choir joins, bringing a sense of gently urgency. Later the violin joins to bring richer phrases, adding to the tension, rising to a fine climax before falling as the violin plays a mournful melody over the organ as we are led into Vidit suum dulcem where the violin holds a hushed note as the choir sing a quiet and gentle Vidit suum dulcem Natum (She saw her sweet Son).

The mood lightens as the organ introduces Eia, Mater, fons amoris the choir soon entes,r bringing a lovely flow, finely phrased. The violin adds occasionally wistful moments before the solo voice of Olivia Wollaston appears, bringing a lovely purity. The choir continues, rising to a peak before some quite lovely choral singing finds the coda.

The organ introduces Sancta Mater with a sense of gravitas and drama, rising slowly and speeding to a dramatic passage where the choir enters, full of strength and drama with Sancta Mater, istud agas, crucifixi fige plagas cordi meo valide (Holy Mother, grant that the wounds of the Crucified drive deep into my heart) through a section that is in the finest tradition of English choral writing, moving through moments of intense passion and drama before falling as the organ plods to a conclusion.

In Fac me tecum Jennifer Pike’s violin enters alone with a slow, rather mournful theme that is developed through some lovely passages. The organ joins, quickly joined by the choir who bring Fac me tecum pie flere (Let me sincerely weep with you) over a held organ note.  The violin returns to weave its sad tune over the organ line before the choir continues over a deep organ chord. The choir and organ find some lovely choral harmonies, expertly sung by this fine choir before the violin is heard over a stronger organ line, leading to the end.

The choir alone bring Virgo virginum, finding a lovely pace, wonderfully phrased, developing some very fine part writing to which this choir brings a lovely clarity before a finely controlled conclusion.

The organ leaps in with a tremendously energetic and dramatic opening to Fac me plagis vulnerary. The choir enters on the words Fac me plagis vulnerary (Let me be wounded) providing a fine rise and fall. The organ continues to bring moments of drama and tension, wonderfully played by the composer. Soon the solo violin joins immediately followed by the choir as all three develop the tension, rising to a peak. There are many moments of drama in this fast moving sequence before suddenly reducing to a slow mournful solo violin, a moment of stunning contrast. The solo voice of Flo Rivington enters to which the choir joins, then violin. In a most affecting moment a hushed single violin note leads to a hushed organ passage. Bednall, as both composer and organist finds such poetry and feeling here before leading to the conclusion and into the final section.

The organ quietly continues with a gentle pulse to go into Christe, cum sit hinc exire with the choir gently entering in a quite lovely Christe, cum sit hinc exire da per Matrem me venire ad palman victoriae (Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence, may I through your attain the palm of victory). The violin brings a rich sonorous, melancholy line to lead ahead over the organ. The choir re-joins, rising a little before an extended Amen leads with violin and organ to the lovely gentle coda.

All in all this is a remarkably fine work full of poetry, passion and deep feeling. It is most wonderfully sung by the Benenden Chapel Choir under their director Edward Whiting with very fine playing indeed from both Jennifer Pike and David Bednall.

The Marian Suite for violin and organ was written for the soloist here, Jennifer Pike who is joined by David Bednall (organ). The first and last movements are paraphrases on the Gregorian chants Ave Maria and Ave maris stella. The organ brings a gentle opening to Ave Maria over which the solo violin lays a gently flowing melody, bringing a rather contemplative quality. It later increases in passion before the organ and violin find an exquisitely gentle end. The organ introduces a lovely Mary's Lullaby with the violin soon joining to add a timeless, very English sounding melody with a lovely, subtle rocking pulse. The music moves through stronger, richer moments before finding a lovely hushed coda. In Ave maris stella the solo violin finds a more dynamic, faster moving theme with the organ bringing some lovely passages as this section all but dances ahead, full of vigour. There is some excellent playing from Jennifer Pike and David Bednall as we are taken through some impressive passages. Towards the end there is a terrific organ passage, before the violin and organ find a vibrant coda. 

Ave Maria was composed for the Benenden Chapel Choir for this recording. The organ opens gently, soon joined by the violin to weave a lovely melody. The choir joins in this rather lovely setting, in many ways an encapsulation of Bednall’s choral style and a lovely way to conclude this fine disc

There is music of strength, beauty and passion here showing that the English choral tradition is alive and well, yet with such originality. 

The choir and soloists are beautifully recorded in the fine acoustic of the Chapel of St. Augustine, Tonbridge School, UK. There are excellent booklet notes from the composer as well as full Latin texts and English translations. The booklet is nicely illustrated. 

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